Monday, January 24

Play It Again Sam

You may care to disagree with me, however I believe Replayability or Replay Value is a dated concept. It may have meant something to me when I was much younger, and opportunities to acquire games appeared solely at the whim of my parents. It may have had something to do with games often being more solo-oriented experiences, where online multiplayer, patches, title updates, downloadable content and achievements (trophies, or what have you) were futuristic concepts. I would also wager that the huge amount of sequels and franchises with annual instalments have contributed to the notion of disposable gaming experiences, where the idea of playing a game again sounds like a waste of time.

To further qualify my argument, the concept of replayability can't properly extend to modern multiplayer- centric titles, as these games (particularly in the PC scene) are often modified to the point where they can be drastically different when revisited months (or years) on. Not sure what I mean? Consider Valve's infinitely playable, Team Fortress 2. I first engaged with the game as part of The Orange Box on the Xbox 360. I earned every single achievement, and played it for hours after accomplishing that feat. After my first encounter with the Red Ring of Death, I purchased the game for my somewhat-capable laptop via Steam (Valve's digital distribution service, for those unaware) a year later. There were several (as in many) new maps, new matchtypes, a new item system had been implemented, and there were even class-specific achievements rendering my past glories on Microsoft's console redundant. Even more confounding was how I was unable to adjust to this new monster. Players were equipped with weapons that had frightening new capabilities, leading to strategies that I had not encountered on the game's console counterpart. I was in way over my head.

After purchasing a new computer recently, I resolved to play TF2 once again, and once again I was confronted with a bevvy of new maps, modes, matchtypes, achievements and now, an item crafting system. I wasn't replaying anything, I was enjoying new experiences. One match stands out more than the rest. I had joined a game on the map, DeGroot Keep where most players had been restricted to engaging in melee combat only, while a small group of selected combatants had access to a bow and arrow. The attacking team had to capture two points on the map before storming the castle. It was madness, it was so unbelievably distant from any game of Team Fortress 2 that I had previously played, and more importantly, it was still fun.

Conversely, I've finished games like Uncharted 2, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, which were incredibly polished, and enjoyable games that I would hardly classify as replayable. I contend that this has much to do with the high amount of cinematic, scripted content in these titles which largely remains static when played through a second (third, fourth and so on) time. You can always play through these games more fluidly, memorising attack patterns and completing sequences faster (picking up a few more trophies/achievements while you're at it), but ultimately you know what is about to happen; there'll be no clinch rocket from the opposing team to cinch an unlikely win. Lazaravic, Joker, Ocelot and Cesare will all fall in the end: there's no lasting victory in store for them (unless of course you don't finish these games, then their crimes will continue to go unabated).

Some might contend that there are some recent releases that allow for players to make choices that have significant impact on the narrative at large, and that if you were to play a game like Fallout 3 twice that you would hear multiple trees of dialogue, and have several events play out in entirely different ways (if at all). But on the other hand, there are a lot (several hours worth) of common actions and experiences that would discourage me from engaging with these titles more than once. Especially when you have hours upon hours worth of downloadable content to play through after the principal narrative has reached its conclusion. Who has the time to best Fallout 3 with a good, neutral and evil character? I certainly don't, and even if I did, I'd probably rather play a few matches of Bad Company 2, Team Fortress 2 or Halo: Reach in that time instead.

There a few single player-focussed games released in this hardware generation that I have had to experience more than once. I finished Bioshock, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune two times each. I'm up to my fourth playthrough of Grand Theft Auto IV, and I must have finished the original Dead Rising three or four times (although with Dead Rising, that is sort of the point).

Maybe I've got it wrong somewhat. Maybe the highly scripted nature of recent single player releases has diminished the notion of replayability? Maybe the amount of time I'm able to spend playing games has diminished to point where if I'm not playing something new, I feel like I'm wasting my time?

Do you believe that replayability (or replay value) is a redundant concept? Should we perhaps explore this in a little more detail? What did you play this weekend?


  1. I don't think there are many single player experiences that I could replay multiple times anymore. I also believe it has something to do with variety. There are far more games in every genre which could be called "stand-outs".

    Given this, it is kinda hard to justify replaying a game I have finished when there are other, possibly awesome, games I am yet to play.

  2. It's a tough call. I've run through Killzone: Liberation a good number of times, only for the fact co-op can give a campaign multiple legs just for the hell of rampaging through on various difficulties with a friend.

    I think it comes down to structure. If it's a channelled experience, you only need to see it once. If it's a player-directed experience, then there's plenty to see if you didn't check it the first time.

    *hopes this will lead to a revisiting of STALKER*

  3. Agreed. Non-linear experiences that, at times depend on replaying content (such as Mario 64) to progress (via the unlocking of stars, to keep with the example) allow for retreading to feel somewhat justified. Giving purpose to re-engaging with levels/games other than intrinsic rewards (trophies/achievements) is the key to creating replay value.

    *Hopes to forgive himself for buying Grand Theft Auto IV on another platform over the holidays*

  4. I am considering buying the GTAIV complete edition for $50. It is pretty good value, and I have always had fun just cruising around on motorbikes!

  5. During the Steam Holiday Sale, I picked it up for $10. Beat that. Oh no! You can't.

  6. DAMN YOU! I don't have a good enough PC (read: a PC that I can play games on without Lisa wanting to castrate me). But I am still considering picking it up. I am a bit over FPS at the minute, and I am looking for something to sink my teeth into.

    I think that will be ME2, but I need back up games! BACK UP GAMES DAMN IT!

  7. Reuben had something similar to me, but I'm confused: don't you two hate GTA IV? It's a great game, and I will never part with it.

    I now own it on all available platofrms: PS3, 360 and PC (hahahahahahahaha I love wasting money).

  8. That is a waste dude! I didn't hate GTA IV, I just didn't think it was the best one liek it was made out to be (that is reserved for San Andreas). Also, I have played GTA games for nearly half of my life, so yeah, it was bound to get a little grating sooner or later.

    And I see Reubs picked up ME2 for PS3 as well! LOL That boy is obsessed. ME2 is winging it's way to me as we speak!